A Brief History of St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr

This church is the visible sign of the faith and devotion of the Polish Catholic pioneers who originally settled the south side of Milwaukee. Although Poles had been trickling into Milwaukee for several years, it was not until 1866 that they were numerous enough to organize a parish. Thirty families bought a small brick church, formerly owned by Lutherans, and dedicated it to St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, who was beloved by the Polish people.

With the explosion of the Polish population in the city over the next few years, a new church was soon necessary.

  • In 1872, the cornerstone was laid. A year later, the cream-city brick building with its landmark twin spires was completed.
  • In 1873, St. Stanislaus established that the first Polish parochial school in America. It was a simple two-story frame building. Its first teacher, Sister Tyta, was also the first Polish nun in America!
  • In 1882, St. Stanislaus recorded 96 marriages, 589 baptisms, and 520 confirmations! This immense growth prompted the founding of several other Polish Catholic churches in Milwaukee.
  • In 1894, under the direction of Fr. Gorski, the original interior was renovated, and some of the interior brick walls were lined with marble. A year later, under Fr. Slulerecki, more interior marble was added.
  • Also in 1894, four immense bells weighing a total of 10 tons — the largest, over 72 inches and weighing 5,000 pounds — were placed in the signature twin spires. The names of all the donors are inscribed on the bells!
  • During the Depression years of the early 1930's, under the direction of Fr. Jurasinski, the church was redecorated again and several other parish buildings were renovated. The current 4-story school was also built.
  • In 1958, Msgr. Punda became pastor. He had been assigned to St. Stanislaus in 1939, and except for service as a military chaplain during World War II, he called St. Stan's home. He initiated the third — and most major — renovation of the church in 1960, inside and out, in preparation for its centennial in 1966. This renovation coincided with the Second Vatican Council and the millennial celebration of Christianity in Poland.
  • During 1960 , the twin towers tuck-pointed, and the domes were completely removed and reconstructed of aluminum covered steel. The domes were covered with 23-carat gold leaf. On September 12, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the new golden towers, with their 10 foot stone crosses, were lifted into place. The clocks on the towers were completely restored and given new mechanisms, and the numbers on the faces of the clocks were covered with gold leaf.
  • Interior work on the church was delayed by a fire in 1962, which caused significant damage to the left side altar and smoke damage to the entire church.
  • In 1963, the rectory — interior and exterior — were completely renovated and remodeled. An ambulatory and chapel on the left side of the altar were constructed to connect the church and rectory buildings.
  • In 1964, all the stained glass windows in the church, which had depicted events in the life of St. Stanislaus, were removed. The old windows, worn through time, had begun to fail, and were considered a security and safety hazard. They were replaced with the current inch-thick, glass-slab windows, which are designed to add a warm ambient glow to the interior.
  • In 1965, the interior of the church received its current renovations. Roman travertine marble was installed on all the remaining interior walls. The new main altar, constructed from portions of the marble and bronze of the old altar, was moved forward in the sanctuary. The marble and gold pulpit was moved thirty feet closer to the altar. All but two small portions of the communion rail were removed and the sanctuary was extended 15 feet into the nave.

The Baptismal Font, a beautiful creation of marble and bronze, formerly stood next to the Sacred Heart side altar. In the 1965 renovation, it was moved into Our Lady's Chapel, on the left side of the main altar.

The final construction during this renovation period was the installation of the exterior shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, which was added as a lasting memorial to the centennial of the parish and the millennium of Christianity in Poland. It is believed to be the largest mosaic image of the Miraculous Virgin in the world.

As the parish numbers declined throughout the 1970's and 80's, the future of this church was uncertain. In 2007, Archbishop Timothy Dolan gave St. Stanislaus Parish to the care of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest and, in 2008, erected St. Stanislaus Oratory. The Priests of the Institute are dedicated to the celebration of the Extraordinary Rite of the Mass (1962 Latin Rite). The Ordinary Rite Mass (English) is still offered on the Saturday vigil.

With the advent of the Institute at St. Stanislaus, new life has come to the venerable old church. Hundreds of families regularly attend the Extraordinary Rite Mass here on Sundays and weekdays. The Latin Mass has different liturgical requirements which have necessitated changes in the church. The altar has been moved back into the sanctuary, a temporary altar rail has been erected to enable communicants to receive kneeling, and chairs and prie dieu have been added to the sanctuary for the additional servers necessary for High Mass. In addition, the beautiful, antique vestments have been recovered and put back into use.

The choir loft, is adorned with a medallion of St. Cecelia, patroness of musicians Here, the choir sings Gregorian chant and other beautiful ancient Masses. In 2011-12, the organ received a much-needed restoration. The pipes were cleaned and regulated. The action was rebuilt, as were the bellows and control system. A console, formerly built and installed at the minor seminary, was moved and installed here.

In 2016, the parish of St. Stanislaus will be 150 years old. The care and preservation of this venerable building will continue so that new generations of Catholics will be able to give glory to God within its hallowed walls.

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